On the Count of 3

Certificate: Unrated
Running time: 96 mins
Director: Brett O. Walker
Starring: Alan Johnson, Litchfield Purjor, Xavier Christian
Genre: Action, Comedy
Country: USA

It was all the way back in the fledgling months of 2012 that we ran the article Troma Legend Kaufman joins On The Count of 3 detailing how Lloyd Kaufman had agreed to cameo in the independent action comedy On the Count of 3 from Brett O. Walker and Christopher Coffel.  Since then not only has On the Count of 3 made it through successful IndieGoGo campaigns and casting announcements but has been completed.  The film serves as the first that Knifed in Venice has chartered from pre-production to completion and without wasting another moment will be the first of these we’ve come to review.

Chuck (Johnson) and Dick (Purjor) are two hard edged cops who treat their jobs like a high risk game but it’s after the takedown of drug kingpin Kieran Fausto (Christian) that the two men see their lives altered forever.  When Fausto walks, thanks to the help of his unscrupulous attorney “Let ‘Em Loose” Larry the two detectives walk away from the thin blue line only to be snapped up by the Federal Government and a somewhat rogue agent who sees the two detectives’ impulse control issues as major bonuses in the war against crime/drugs/take your pick.

In a recent chat with Christopher Coffel I’ve come to discover that his cinematic influences and leanings are not unlike my own.  As a lifelong fan of not just Exploitation cinema but also action cinema (and in particular 80’s buddy-action cinema) there is a short hand in writing of On the Count of 3 that I not only find familiar but incredibly well recreated.  The camaraderie between the two leads is extremely strong and though the chemistry has to, in some part, be attributed to the performers it all begins in the writing.  Many of the references in the film speak to the generation who (not only) were old enough to watch these films the first tome around but those of us who took them in before certifying bodies would have liked and in turn sculpted our take on the world.  This film is for them, for us and the references contained speak to that.  It’s also incredibly funny and unlike many independent films out there it’s funny where it’s meant to be.  The laughs that Coffel and Walker have played toward come off extremely well timed coming down squarely on their marks, similarly the dialogue is sharp, well pitched and lands perfectly not just to help characterise the performers but the film as an entity.

Walker’s direction is one of clarity.  In discussion with Coffel I came to realise just how long and how many passes the two men had made at the imagining of On the Count of 3 and I think Walker’s constant presence in the birthing of the project helped deliver a film that was immaculately clear in its intent.  Interestingly, for an action film, many of the key dialogue sequences play out in a long take rather than have a heavy reliance on editing.  This was a technique that cinematically I had not seen in a while, in action had certainly not seen executed since the heyday of Brian DePalma.  Initially it's use left me feeling somewhat detached from the narrative it brought me to a new level of appreciation for the film, not just for the construction of the piece but the execution by the performers.  It’s an interesting stylistic and one I would like to take a little time to look at.  

Cinematically the long take is used to detach the audience from the narrative, to put them at arms length from the action (as editing is used to suture you into the fabric of the film).  It’s often a device that backfires for directors as it puts too much emphasis on the holy trinity of the screen – the performers, the mise en scene and overall the mise en shot as it is a device that highlights it's own artifice.  As a device for narrative cinema it is rarely one that will be appreciated as it leaves the glare of the audience on a sequence for a period of time that’s all together too risky, eventually they will come to see something wrong and this will be magnified by the presence of the long take.  Alfred Hitchcock experimented with the long take in the 1940’s with Lifeboat and Rope and most tellingly returned to the convention of heavily edited narrative cinema with only momentary returns to the stylistic.  I mention this, I digress from the main review in order to bore you with the detail of “the long take” in order to highlight just how impressive it is when a director, any director (regardless of budget), pulls it off.  Last year the Soska sisters achieved what I thought was a beautifully intricate long track in Dead Hooker in a Trunk, Walker punctuates On the Count of 3 with this risky technique and it is a risk that pays off in buckets as not only does it foreground an unusually strong cast but highlights a confidence that will, no doubt, bring us more ambitious offerings in years to come.

On the Count of 3 is populated with strong performances and though it seems unfair to highlight only a couple tradition dictates this must occur.  Johnson and Purjor as individuals are incredibly strong, as a double act are a tour de force and are every inch the Riggs/Murtaugh, Mr. Mean/Huberto, Koko B.Ware/Owen Hart of the piece.  Purjor is remarkably comfortably on screen and brings a comedic quality that simply can’t be bottled; likewise Johnson plays the “straight guy” perfectly to his off kilter partner.  Gordon Clark (as Federal Agent Samson) is unbearably good.  His arrival on screen was accompanied by a degree of scepticism as I was unsure of two things 1. how he would change the dynamic of the piece and 2. how he would play the G-man differently to the millions of standard performances we’ve seen of “The Fed” in the action genre.  On both instances you’ll be pleasantly surprised as not only does Clark add something to the on screen blend of Chuck and Dick but he does it in such a wonderfully subtle and relaxed way that the absence of any on screen effort in performance puts you immediately at ease.  Clark is a powerful performer in his own laid back way.  Finally Xavier Christian as Fausto.  The only criticism of his performance is that we weren't treated to enough of it.  His gesturality on screen is beyond natural, he has a restraint on screen that at times is confidence, at other times menacing and at all points is a joy to witness.

On the Count of 3 like all independent films is a love letter to cinema.  The amount of effort it takes to make a film you need to be more than slightly infatuated with the medium but it’s more than that, it’s a down on one knee broken knuckled clutching a ring box proposal to the action genre.  It takes the codes and conventions that as an audience we all know, love and accept and it takes great pleasure in serving them up to you with confidence, commitment and above all passion.  A hugely entertaining action packed juggernaut that’ll crash through your front door and thrill you…but only on the count of three.


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